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I am a typical amateur in Chess, played as kid a bit with my Dad and some friends, never got really good or invested much time, but always "a bit" interested in the game, so I play from time to time since then. In recent years I started to play a bit more, on chess.com. I like their game analysis feature, which helps me to understand a bit what I did wrong in my games.

However, this is all done by the AI, I cannot really ask a question there. But this is exactly what I would like to do - when I am in this or that situation in a game, I would like to ask a pro what he or she would do in that situation, and even more important: WHY so?

There are several places online where one could check for "the best" next move. But I want to learn, I want to become better, so I would need an explaination of WHY this or that move would be good.

What would you recommend where I should ask these kind of question? Is this forum here the right place to ask, or are there better places online for that?

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    There's a website where, they tells which move is best also why, with deep analysis. But It really costs too much so I didn't consider joining that. (Side note : I forgot the website name, I don't think it will be in my history). You can ask some question here also. Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 16:13
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    Possibly relevant: DecodeChess claims to "explain the why behind chess moves..." Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 16:20
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    @SecretAgentMan Yep, man. That's what I was talking about. :D Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 17:59
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    The old-fashioned way was to join a club.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 10:47
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    @SecretAgentMan Thanks for this link, that looks very helpful!
    – Matthias
    Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 17:31

8 Answers 8

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I'd like to add an important point: "Move", singular.

Obviously, chess truth rarely is inside of single moves. I'm quite a strong player and frequently exclaim "What?" if the engine plays some outrageous move again. In this case, nothing will spare you from going into moveS, plural. Some points are only revealing themselves after a few moves (and yes, you must learn to cut down the combinatorical explosion - "checks and captures first" is a good heuristic).

For example, start with the question directly below yours. "-5? What? That bad?" I didn't believe it either, so I went a bit deeper into sensible defense tries of White and how the engine totally annihilates the opponent. Thus I was able to condense it into one sentence: In all variants, White lacks a tempo to castle into (relative) safety, since all the attacks come with tempo win.

Play out the variants until you understand where the advantage lies. It can be easy (two-move combination which mates, or win the queen) or very hard on your level (some decisive positional advantage). With experience comes pattern recognition, and sooner or later you will do this automatically and your chess subconscious will honk stuff like "Combination imminent! Check if standard sacrifice works!". Naturally, begin training the easy stuff first.

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AI isn't really that good at explaining chess moves in human terms. There are several attempts but also too many positions where their advice is wrong or confusing. We need to be realistic about what's possible. Even if a human Grandmaster were to explain us their analysis, lots of details would fly over our heads. Now imagine a much stronger player who can't even speak any human language properly.

As for what we can actually do, we can play out with the suggestions from the engine, seeing how it responds to our alternatives. We won't get some "deep" reasonning about why the suggested move is good, but we'll get answers to alternative lines we thought to be better. For example, most of the time you don't think a given move is good it's gonna be because you're thinking of some of your opponent's replies that would work well against it. If the engine suggests something else, play both lines out and compare.

It'll still depend on your overall chess skill though. A GM will always understand engine output better than a club player, and a club player will understand it better than a beginner even if the stronger players haven't worked with an engine in their lives. If you want to understand engines better, from a certain point onwards your only chance will be to get better at the game.

Engine assisted-analysis is a tool that can help you improve, but you need other sources like your own analysis, books, courses, coaches and most importantly tournament experience!

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    "AI isn't really that good at" - this is generally the problem with using AI to understand the "why". AI isn't really as smart as it seems. Even if it plays better than a human, it only means it can go through orders of magnitudes more moves than a human, a lot faster. AI isn't smart, it's just dumb really really fast as it can go through billions of stupid moves until it finds the optimal one. (yes, I know that modern chess AI uses sophisticated methods to prioritize how it checks the possible moves, but it still only plays so well by being able to churn through a lot more moves than humans)
    – vsz
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 5:38
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    Chess.com has the "Game review" feature, where they try to give understandable comments. I'm testing it these days, and it's too buggy to be reliable. Just one example: if you make a move that lets your enemy fork your king and rook with their knight, so that you have to trade you rook for the knight, the engine immediately reduces your evaluation by 2. But the comment is "A solid move". Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 0:05
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Kudos to @Billy Istiak for being the first person to mention a book. And anti-kudos for the implication that you can't ask questions of a book. Intelligent reading of a good book will answer many questions. If you still have questions that have not been answered, try a different book (and I said different, not necessarily better).

Long ago, I learned chess by borrowing all of Fred Reinfeld's books from my local library. In modern terms they probably took me past 1600 but were too simplistic. I came away with the impression that the Caro-Kann was a forced loss. I learned much more by joining a club, and especially by playing one particular opponent with a good defensive style. I don't think I ever asked him a question, but choosing to play him was as good as asking a question.

The analysis feature on chess.com is very good at spotting the tactics that you have missed but almost hopeless at criticising your plans. If you cannot find (or cannot afford) a good coach, then I think you should no longer be looking for anyone (or anything) to answer questions, but should instead be asking how else to find answers, and this may require some creativity on your part. Look in as many places as possible, and recognise that it will be a long process.

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I'd second Hauke Reddmann's final suggestion, and add a bit to it. "Play out the variants until you understand where the advantage lies." To that I would point out an interesting variant of chess, Advanced Chess. In Advanced Chess, a human and computer play as a team. As it turns out, a human plus a computer is quite often much stronger than just a computer.

Let's say you played 5. ... Nf6. The computer suggests 5. ... a6, and you don't understand why. Play around with it! Flip the tables. Play white as you+computer, against the computer playing black solo. Explore white's options... not just what the computer thinks is best, but what you think is best. See where it goes. Maybe even flip the tables again and explore your options as black again.

Play through both 5. ... Nf6 and 5... a6. See how each one plays out, and how they feel.

If one is much better than the other in the AI's evaluation, there's a good chance that you're about to either capture a ton of free material or get a landslide attack. In those cases, the AI's result should become obvious as you play advanced chess. If the evaluations are closer together, the difference may be more subtle.

The difference may even be wrong. Remember, the AI evaluations are tuned around the style of play that an AI plays. They're not tuned to your style. You may find that a "slightly worse evaluated move" is actually better suited for your play style.

If you look into the famous games of Kasparov vs. Deep Blue, in the first game, Kasparov slaughtered Deep Blue. Just peeled its defenses open and claimed ownership of the computer's king. Deep Blue had been tuned against other grandmasters of the day, but nobody was quite as aggressive as Kasparov. The programmers had to quickly increase how much they valued king-safety in order to stay in the game!

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  • Is "a human plus a computer is quite often much stronger than just a computer" really still true with modern chess engines? Chess AI has improved enormously since Deep Blue. Commented Dec 6, 2022 at 16:49
  • @EricWofsey A weaker version is certainly true, "a human plus a computer is quite often stronger than a computer." As for my use of the superlative "much," that may be debated. Several big names (Kasparov being one of them) still believe that such a combined team beats out a lone computer. There are positions computers still aren't good at; a smart computer knows how to avoid entering them. But if a human+computer team can force the computer into them, they have a substantial advantage.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 13:57
  • There are people who disagree, of course. Some argue along the lines of your question -- that computers have gotten to the point where they simply outplay humans by such an order of magnitude that there's nothing left for the team. So perhaps my certainty in the statement is exaggerated. Perhaps I'm a romantic at heart. I feel the idea that a computer+human is better than a computer encourages the human soul to reach out and try a bit harder, so I like to hold to that image.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 13:59
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I would suggest watching GM's speedruns where they go through different levels of opponents and describe their thought process for each level. Greatest example of this is Daniel Naroditsky's speedrun as other then being an exceptional chess player he is also an excellent teacher.

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  • I don't know about Daniel Naroditsky, but I didn't like Hikaru's speedrun, he was kinda busy with saying his lines. But didn't even mention where the weakness is (barely said that in endgame). I kinda liked Levy's instructional videos. But he lately stopped doing them. I don't think he will come back to those videos sooner. So book is the only method I can think of. Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 18:05
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    @BillyIstiak Hikaru never explains his thoughts. Danya does. They're completely different content. One's entertaining, the other is informative. Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 19:16
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    Both Nakamura and Naroditsky have some great content but their speedruns definitely don't address the topic of this question
    – David
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 19:18
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    @David In Naroditsky's speeruns he always explains the thought process behind his moves and also addresses the weaknesses of his opponents moves. This can give players intuition for distinguishing good moves from bad ones. If the move is part of a tactic it's easy to see why it is good by using an engine, if it is a part of a strategy it's good to hear players intuition behind certain moves and generalize it to your own games
    – dzi
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 20:20
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This forum is an excellent place to ask anything. One example of a question that asked the whys about a particular position is in the following link: Why is the chess.com analysis of this position -5? You can do the same with your doubts.

However, I have an idea that I would like you to consider. If a child is in first grade, and he/she asks about Einstein's Theory of Relativity, would the child understand the answer? Chess is as difficult as Physics. Just go step by step and ask questions explaining your level, "your grade," and your thoughts. Do not try to skip grades. The Soviet School had 2 big schools. One that suggested starting with openings, and another that suggested starting with endgames. Openings have always fascinated chess players. However, as the number of moves that are in openings is extremely big, I consider that the right path is to start with endgames. That will help to build a structure like LEGO pieces. You can start with a piece, then a second piece, etc. Soon you will have a house, then a building, and eventually a city. Chess is an extremely difficult game. We all have to learn. Somehow, we all are in the first grade. Good luck with your chess journey!

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First question, I will ask a beginner, what's your rating in chess.com? below, 1200? Ok, now it's time to learn upto 2 openings as white as well as black. And stop blundering pieces.

You have crossed 1200? Let's deep dive into calculations, know what is weakness, how to win simple endgame (don't go deep like 3-4 pawns endgame or more). Then what comes is, strategic plans.

Let me tell you my story, how I easily started beating 1400s after stopped playing chess for a month, (and my blitz rating was 1300 that time). (I don't even know my current classical or rapid rating cause I can't focus on the computer screen to calculate deep variations). I took the book How to Reassess your chess to understand other player's game. I completely stopped playing that time. And read the lines Silman wrote carefully, if you understand a position then see what Silman says about that. When you can't get a coach, you just have to study books and some positions from other's game. Before studying middlegame, I suggest to study endgame upto 1700 level if you are over than 1200. In middlegame, you need plan in any kind of position. You gotta learn how to plan from others, if you are a fan of YouTube, visit Levy's video of 2020 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKEXns2Ed_0, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtaEnxG2lbg&list=PLBRObSmbZluSo6h0AySyeZRdlQzEhr2XL, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm17mDpmBL0&list=PLBRObSmbZluSWzcTDn44GGo1wp4MDDnHb, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCsc24k-Q8M&list=PLBRObSmbZluTCoqlOg-3wEdlyRQLAJ2gs) These few steps are great to take your chess knowledge to next level. The playlist from chessnerd - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLiEdPeXVPzzGtEyz5RmMFLC4hVPgFXpcQ

Why did I tell to study when you asked why this or that move is good? Let me go straightforward, when you learn how to analyze a position, you automatically knows what happened wrong (but don't tell me that, I am telling you that you can analyze at grandmaster level, also don't tell me, you are at 900 and analyzing them. In the beginning, I said if you are under 1200 just stop blundering nothing else). Suppose, you are an introvert (that's me) and you have a coach and you take group lesson. He generally will teach you what to do in "the position". As an Introvert, you are less likely to ask question, and deep-dive into the board. That's what you can learn from Silman's book, Silman always mentions human-like move. So when you take a position from his book and think what to do, he will tell- what you thought was good or bad (nah, he isn't going to mention 900 ELO move). Silman said, "after completing his book, you can review- what did you understand of a position (this time read answer later)". After completing all these things, you can understand your positions (or even computer sometimes. Sometimes, they are intelligent nonsense).

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    This isn't bad advice for a player who wants to improve their general chess skills but I don't see how this answers the question
    – David
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 19:19
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    @David Will you please read the edited answer? If it still doesn't answer the question, then if you want I can delete it. Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 15:48
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    @BillyIstiak Interesting answer! Do not erase it! Different answers exist because there are different perspectives.
    – Beginner
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 21:35
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There is a striking similarity with some agreed draws between GMs that leave the amateur baffled. To figure out why a position was agreed draw upon, we need to go through what we perceive to be critical lines and establish all drawing motives at their ends. These might differ; some end in stalemate, some in repetition, some in insufficient material; but all of them will speak for themselves, so to say.

Such procedure is the general heuristic, but of course that's highly impractical if you're not in an overseeable endgame position, because there will likely be a whole tree of WHYs.

The puristic answer thus must be to start by studying endgames. Start establishing the WHYs at the tail and work yourself backwards, motive-wise. Once you understand such a game-ending concept, say Lucena, you shorten your chain of whys by one, so when facing a position where the engine gives you a certain best move that leads into Lucena, you'll get the WHY simply based on your recognition and memory. Rince and repeat, and build your THEREFOREs from that.

Later, when evaluating, also during a game, you'll usually be satisfied with answers like activates my rook (development), clears a square (tactical threat), fixes a pawn (positional gain) or the like, and you'll not be after the ultimate WHY, just the closest one. This is the application phase; during build-up, I recommend you study game-ending motives and work backwards.

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